By Allison Nicole Shultes
Most elementary-aged children ask for dogs. Matt Stewart, a fifteen-year old Swarthmore resident, asked for chickens.
If not for the clucking, you might miss them altogether. Nestled against his garage is a custom-built coop, the home of ten friendly fowl.
Matt’s choice of pets no longer seems as extraordinary as when his first chicks arrived on his doorstep five years ago. Chicken coops are springing up across Swarthmore – and across the country. Prized for their nutrient-rich eggs and fertilizer, their pest and weed control abilities, and their easy upkeep, chickens have become a backyard staple for gardening and fresh-food enthusiasts.
While Jonathan’s knowledge of chicken caretaking comes from his father, Matt had to learn the basics on his own. His involvement in the local 4H camp’s Poultry Club allowed him to visit the farm for a few hours every week and perform basic chicken chores. After a summer of feeding, watering, and cleaning up after chickens, club members can take their charges home.
“I would recommend raising chickens for anyone who has fifteen minutes a day,” Matt said. “It’s really not that much work.” Responsibilities include feeding and watering, cleaning the coop, collecting the eggs, and keeping an ear out for any unhappy clucking that could signal predators. Both Matt and Jonathan are responsible for performing these daily tasks on their own.
Thriving egg businesses additionally keep the boys busy with chicken chores. Matt frequents the weekly farmer’s market and occasionally sets up shop in his front yard, attracting passing cars and pedestrians. Jonathan makes weekly delivery to three regular customers, including his next-door neighbors, who stick a sign in their window – EGGS – when they’re running low.
The chickens, which can sell for as little as 50 cents, arrived on Jonathan’s doorsteps in a cardboard box. While young, they are kept in a brooder (a cardboard box lined with pine shavings works just fine) at temperatures starting around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and decreasing by about 5 degrees per week for four to six weeks. Once they’re big enough, they can be moved to a coop, which vary in size and shape.
The Stewarts hired a construction team to install their custom-made chicken coop and run, whereas the Cressons purchased their house-like structure when the chicks first arrived. Installation does not have to be complicated – Mary McCabe, a Swarthmore resident, set up a pre-bought coop in her front yard.
“The animals are great,” Matt said of his chickens. “They’re friendly, they don’t peck anybody, and if you keep them happy they’re quiet.”
To see the backyard chickens of Swarthmore, join the community in the first-ever Backyard Chicken Coup Tour on September 15, which will feature the fowl of the Cresson, McCabe, Stewart/Scanlon, and Bunting/Wiles families. To watch Matt and Jonathan discuss their chickens in more detail, visit aFewSteps.org